Registration for Alabama alligator season opens Friday

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will open online registration for the state’s 12th annual regulated alligator hunts June 2, 2017, at 8 a.m. Registration must be completed by 8 a.m. July 11. A total of 260 Alligator Possession Tags will be distributed among four hunting zones. The administrative fee to apply for an Alligator Possession Tag is $22 and individuals may register one time per zone. While the tag is free, the selected hunters and their assistants are required to have valid hunting licenses in their possession while hunting.

Only Alabama residents and Alabama lifetime license holders ages 16 years or older may apply for tags. Alabama lifetime license holders may apply for an Alligator Possession Tag even if they have moved out of the state.

To register for the 2017 alligator hunts beginning June 2 at 8 a.m., visit www.outdooralabama.com/registration-instructions during the registration period.

Hunters will be randomly selected by computer to receive one Alligator Possession Tag each, and the tags are non-transferable. The random selection process will utilize a preference point system. The system increases the likelihood of repeat registrants being selected for a hunt as long as the applicant continues to apply. The more years an applicant participates in the registration, the higher the likelihood of being selected. If an applicant does not register for the hunt in a given year or is selected and accepts a tag for a hunt, the preference point status is forfeited.

Applicants should check their selection status on July 12 after 12 p.m. Those selected to receive a tag must confirm their acceptance online by 8 a.m. July 19. After that date, alternates will be notified to fill any vacancies. Applicants drawn for the hunt must attend a mandatory zone-specific Alligator Training Course provided by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. If hunters have attended a previous training course, they may be exempted from this requirement.

If selected for an Alligator Possession Tag at two or more locations, hunters must choose which location they would like to hunt. The slot for locations not chosen will be filled from a list of randomly selected alternates.

Hunting zones, total tags issued per zone and hunt dates are as follows:

Southwest Alabama Zone – 150 Tags
Locations: Private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties, and private and public waters in Washington, Clarke and Monroe counties that lie east of U.S. Highway 43 and south of U.S. Highway 84. 2017 Dates: 8 p.m. August 10 until 6 a.m. August 13, and 8 p.m. August 17 until 6 a.m. August 20 (nighttime only).

Southeast Alabama Zone – 40 Tags
Locations: Private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell counties (excluding public Alabama state waters in Walter F. George Reservoir/Lake Eufaula and its navigable tributaries). 2017 Dates: 8 p.m. August 12 until 6 a.m. September 4 (nighttime only).

West Central Alabama Zone – 50 Tags
Locations: Private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox and Dallas counties. 2017 Dates: 8 p.m. August 10 until 6 a.m. August 13, and 8 p.m. August 17 until 6 a.m. August 20 (nighttime only).

Lake Eufaula Zone – 20 Tags
Location: Public state waters only in the Walter F. George Reservoir/Lake Eufaula and its navigable tributaries, south of Alabama Highway 208 at Omaha Bridge (excludes Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge). 2017 Dates: Sunset August 18 until sunrise October 2 (day and night).

An 8-foot minimum length requirement is in effect for alligators harvested in the Lake Eufaula Zone. There is no minimum length for hunts in the other zones.

Hunting hours are 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the Southwest, Southeast and West Central Zones. For the Lake Eufaula Zone, hunting is allowed both daytime and nighttime hours. All Alabama hunting and boating regulations must be followed.

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is the largest reptile in North America and can exceed 14 feet in length and 1,000 pounds. Known for its prized meat and leather, the species was threatened with extinction due to unregulated harvest during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. No regulations existed in those days to limit the number of alligators harvested. In 1938, it is believed that Alabama was the first state to protect alligators by outlawing these unlimited harvests. Other states soon followed and in 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the American alligator on the Endangered Species list. By 1987, the species was removed from the Endangered Species list and the alligator population has continued to expand. Its history illustrates an excellent conservation success story.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

West Central Alabama Alligator Hunting Season – Unofficial Results – Weekend One

The 2016 Alabama Alligator Hunting season opened last weekend, beginning Thursday night at 8 p.m. and ending Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Hunters were able to hunt from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. nightly. The West Central region covers private and public waters from Dallas County south to the Highway 84 bridge in Monroe County. A total of 17 gators were harvested in the opening weekend. All harvests were weighed in at Roland Cooper State Park on the banks of the Alabama River in Camden.

The season continues this weekend nightly from Thursday through Sunday morning. The West Alabama Watchman will partner with James ‘Big Daddy’ Lawler of the Gettin’ Outdoors Radio Network to bring you coverage.

Thursday Night Results

Nick Cochran (Alpine) – 8′ 8″, 191 lbs., F

Tyler Johnson (Scottsboro) – 7′ 5″, 105 lbs., F

Gator Mike Gifford – (Eufaula) – 7′ 6″, 141.5 lbs, M

James Lee Coe (Columbiana) – 7′ 9″, 130 lbs., M

 

Friday Night Results

Jake Rosser (Stevenson) – 7′ 2″, 85 lbs., M

Wesley Ann Terry (Camden)- 12′ 4 1/2″, 547 lbs. M

Karl Breland (Huntsville) – 7′ 9″, 149.5 lbs., M

Larry Hatchett (Shelby) – 11′ 3″, 449 lbs., M

Neal Posey (Selma) – 11′ 4″, 420.5 lbs., M

Jacob Walker (Pike Road) – 6′ 8″, 75 lbs., F

Ethan Tyree – 10′ 10″, 318 lbs., M

 

Saturday Night Results

Joseph Gann (Trussville) – 7′ 7″, 100 lbs., M

Dudley Oglesby (Ozark) – 8′ 3″, 156 lbs., F

Jarrod Pettie (Andalusia) – 11′ 2″, 380 lbs., M

Brian Robertson (Vinemont) – 6′ 2″, 61 lbs., F

Jessica Guy (Dickerson) – 12′ 6″, 562 lbs., M

Louie Wallace (Thomasville) – 5′ 11″, 39 lbs., F

Patience a virtue in quest for alligator hunting tag

Eufaula gator 15

Last year’s largest alligator was taken at Lake Eufaula by, from left, Scott Evans, Jeff Gregg and Justin Gregg. The gator measured 13 feet, 6 inches and weighed 920 pounds. (Contributed Photo)

The old axiom that patience is a virtue is especially true for those who applied for an alligator tag for Alabama’s upcoming season.

Before 2014, getting picked in the random drawing was truly luck of the draw. In 2014, a preference points system was implemented, but it takes a little time before it influences who gets drawn.

Chris Nix, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Alligator Program Coordinator, said applicants who didn’t get picked this year are frustrated, but he insists that the current preference system just needs a little more time to work as designed.

“The big topic is the lack of clarity of the applications on the selection process,” Nix said. “They want to know why some people are getting tags, and why they’re not getting tags. It’s been a chore this year to explain how our preference points system works.”

The application process starts around the first of June each year and is open for about six weeks. Interested parties can apply one time in each of the four alligator zones. Once the application period ends, WFF officials start the selection process, which involves the preference points system. Those selected have seven days to log back into the same page on outdooralabama.com and confirm their selection.

“Everyone who applied gets one entry for the current year,” Nix said. “Everyone who has applied in previous years and did not receive a tag the prior year will receive preference points. The preference points are accumulated by the number of years you have consistently (without interruption) applied and not received a tag. That number of years is then cubed to give the number of preference points.

“Last year was the first so the most points they could have was one. It’s going to be another year or two before we start seeing the benefits of this. This year, the most points they could have is eight. But next year, it’ll be 27. We’re going to get there, but it’s going to take a little bit of patience. It grows quickly, which is the way we set it up.”

When the selection process starts, all applicants with preference points are separated from those applicants without preference points. When the drawing starts, 85 percent of the available tags will be pulled from applicants with preference points. The other 15 percent of the tags will go to those with no preference points. Those applicants who receive a tag will have all preference points erased.

“It skews odds in favor of people who have consistently applied and not received a tag,” Nix said. “But everyone has the opportunity to get a tag. Those 15 percent are going to go to people who have not applied before or received a tag last year. But because you received a tag last year doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance to get one. We had some people who drew tags in back to back years.”

Nix has to explain to some people that although the preference points system is in place that sometimes it just comes down to the luck of the draw.

“When you pay that $22 administration fee, everyone has the opportunity,” he said. “Some people are lucky and some people aren’t. If I had every $5 I’ve spent on raffle tickets for a Yeti cooler, I could probably go buy three.”

Nix said one example of the luck of the draw is that Mandy Stokes, who caught the world-record alligator at 15 feet 9 inches and 1,011.5 pounds in 2014, did not get drawn this year, much to her chagrin.

Public interest has remained steady to increasing every year, according to Nix. Applications peaked the year after Stokes’ gator drew worldwide attention, coupled with the establishment of a separate zone for Lake Eufaula. This year there were 3,845 applications for 260 tags statewide. There were 3,014 applications in 2014 and 4,137 in 2015.

The Southwest Zone, which had 150 tags available, includes the private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile Counties and private and public waters in Washington, Clarke, and Monroe Counties that lie east of U.S. Highway 43 and south of U.S. Highway 84.2015 we had 4,137 applications with the addition of a separate zone for Lake Eufaula. This zone was previously called the Mobile-Tensaw Delta Zone. That zone’s hunting dates are from 8 p.m. August 11, 2016 until 6 a.m. August 14, 2016 and from 8 p.m. August 18, 2016until 6 a.m. August 21, 2016.

“In the Delta, the hunting has been consistent,” Nix said. “The harvest has fluctuated right around the 100-gator mark the last few years. A lot of that has to do with hunter selection. I’m sure all the tags could be filled in the Delta if they just wanted a gator. Human nature is for hunters to target the larger animals. There are a lot of 8- and 9-foot gators out there. But hunters had rather go home empty-handed instead of just killing an animal. For the large majority, if they have the opportunity to take a 10-foot or better gator, they will take it. That’s a very respectable animal.”

The West Central Alabama Zone, where the Stokes gator was taken, includes the private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox, and Dallas Counties. Last year, hunters filled 25 tags. Hunting dates to fill this year’s 50 tags are the same as the Southwest Zone.

The Southeast Alabama Zone, which has 40 tags, includes the private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell Counties (excluding public Alabama state waters in Walter F. George Reservoir (Lake Eufaula) and its navigable tributaries). Season dates are from 8 p.m. Aug. 13, 2016 to 6 a.m. Sept. 5, 2016

The Lake Eufaula Zone, which has 20 tags, includes the public Alabama state waters only in the Walter F. George Reservoir (Lake Eufaula) and its navigable tributaries, south of Hwy 208, Omaha Bridge, (excluding Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge). The largest gator from the 2015 season was taken at Lake Eufaula. That gator, caught by Scott Evans and crew, was 13 feet, 6 inches long and weight 920 pounds.

Nix said all the regulations regarding the alligator hunts are covered in detail in the mandatory training, but there is one safety measure that sometimes gets ignored.

“The biggest issue we have is people not wanting to turn on the running lights on their boats,” he said. “We stress that heavily in the class from a safety aspect. One of our officers had a close encounter with a boat because they didn’t have their running lights on.”

Nix said Alabama alligator hunting has come a long way since the season opened in 2006. A total of 50 tags were distributed the first year in only one zone. Three additional zones have been added since, and Nix said there could be more in the future.

“The line for natural breeding populations is somewhere near Montgomery,” he said. “We know there are some alligators north of there. We’re planning to survey the Tallapoosa and Alabama rivers soon, and we’re going to do another on the Tombigbee River. We know alligators are there. We just have to get the data to build trends to make sure additional or expanded hunting zones are justified.”

For those who love to watch the alligators being weighed in, that opportunity will again be available in the West Central Zone at Roland Cooper State Park and in the Southwest Alabama Zone at WFF office on the Causeway.

David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman. 

Thomaston’s Stokes, fellow hunters attend record gator’s unveiling

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association, created in 2009 to promote the 23 Black Belt counties in Alabama, today celebrated the unveiling of the world-record American alligator caught on the Alabama River and now on exhibit through May 24 at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum in Montgomery.

From left, Kevin Jenkins, Parker Jenkins, Savannah Jenkins, Mandy Stokes, John Stokes

From left, Kevin Jenkins, Parker Jenkins, Savannah Jenkins, Mandy Stokes, John Stokes

“This is a great example of the many activities that draw outdoors enthusiasts from all across the U.S. as well as Alabama residents to this region each year,” said Pam Swanner, ALBBAA Project Director. “It’s a testament to the fact that Alabama’s Black Belt region is a premier outdoor destination.”

Lifelong Black Belt residents Mandy and John Stokes of Thomaston, joined by Mandy’s brother-in-law Kevin Jenkins and his teenage children, Savannah and Parker, had no idea their first attempt to bag an alligator during the state’s short gator season would yield a Safari Club International-certified world record.

“It was just amazing,” Mandy Stokes said. “That was a long night, but it didn’t seem long. There were a couple of times we were sitting and waiting, but we had a job to do.”

The bull gator measured 15 feet, 9 inches to earn the Safari Club designation. It weighed 1,011.5 pounds and experts determined it was between 24 and 28 years old.

The Stokes family was joined at the unveiling by Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner N. Gunter Guy, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Director Charles F. “Chuck” Sykes, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and State Sen. Clyde Chambliss of Prattville.

“I see this today as a celebration,” Guy said. “It’s really a celebration of the American hunter and the hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists who support our cause.”

The Mann Wildlife Learning Museum at the Montgomery Zoo, 325 East Vandiver Boulevard, is open from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

Potential world record gator taken near Millers Ferry

Photos submitted by Kristi Stokes

Photos submitted by Kristi Stokes

A 15-foot alligator weighing 1,011.5 pounds was taken by Thomaston resident Mandy Stokes Friday night/Saturday morning near Millers Ferry in Wilcox County. It is believed to be a potential world-record legally harvested alligator. According to a family member, the gator tops the Alabama record Fancher alligator, taken in 2011. That alligator was 14-foot, 2 inches and weighed 838 pounds. Shown above from left are John Stokes, Mandy Stokes, Savannah Jenkins, Kevin Jenkins, and Parker Jenkins. In the middle photo is Mandy Stokes and her neice, Savannah.

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